The Sheep Albedo Feedback

"A real breakthrough was using the statistical technique pioneered by Frusen-Glädje and Haagendassen in their study of the solar-climate connection." said Noh-Watt "Just as in their case, to get a good match to the observed climate, we had to optimize our smoothing algorithm by smoothing some parts of the sheep record more than others, and then rescaling the results." The optimized smoothing was applied to the years 1975-1991. Noted skeptic Rasmus Benestad has criticized this technique as meaningless curve-bashing (see footnote [3] below), but according to Noh-Watt, " All these guys are interested in is getting rich by riding their bicycles to work and selling carbon credits to the EU."

Not everybody agrees with the Sheep Albedo Hypothesis. Leading the flock of skeptics is the New Zealand Sheep Farmers Guild. Their spokesman, Steve Ramsturf (no relation) was quoted as saying "Baaah, Humbug. No matter what goes wrong with the world, they’re always trying to blame the poor New Zealand Sheep Farmer. First it was the methane belch tax. Now this Albedo thing. "

The recognition of the role of sheep albedo opens up some fascinating new possibilities for climate change mechanisms. There is in fact an important destabilizing feedback in the system: as climate gets warmer, there is less demand for wool sweaters and wooly underwear. Hence the sheep population tends to drop, leading to even more warming. In an extreme form, this can lead to a "runaway sheep-albedo feedback," which is believed to have led to the present torrid climate of Venus. Most researchers do not think this could happen on Earth, though. In fact, Oprah and Averell Chanteur, authors of the popular "Unstoppable" series (soon to be a major motion picture) say that the warming will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, with less enslavement of domestic wool-bearing animals. The hypothesis is laid out in their forthcoming book, "Unstoppable Sheep, every five or six days," which expands on earlier popular titles in the series, such as "Unstoppable daylight, every 42 hours," "Unstoppable Summer, every 17 months, " and the ever-popular autobiographical work "Unstoppable nonsense, every two or three years."

However, Dirk Blitzen, noted researcher from Hogwartz Institute of Technology, has proposed an additional wrinkle on the sheep-albedo idea, which he calls the "sheep-Iris effect" (see Dasher et al. [4] for details). According to Blitzen, a reanalysis of Landsat images shows that as the climate gets warmer, sheep tend to huddle together less. Since wool has a lower emissivity than bare ground, the lack of huddling allows more infrared emission to escape from the ground, cooling the planet and stabilizing its climate. "Frankly, I don’t see how the climate can change much at all," stated Blitzen in recent testimony before the House of Lords, "To be honest, at this point I have a little trouble figuring out how there can even be summer and winter. In the end, I think it will turn out to be a problem with the data." Ozark Junior College satellite expert Jhon Chrystal agrees; his new analysis of MSU satellite data in fact casts doubt on the "consensus" that summer and winter have different temperatures.

But the sheep story may not be as simple as it seems. Hendreck Svampmark of the Danish Institute for Solar-Sheep Interactions notes that at the same time the number of sheep has been going down, the number of cows (which have a lower albedo than sheep) has been going up. "We believe that what is really behind it all are Galactic Cowsmic Rays, which are transmuting sheep DNA into cow DNA." Svampmark hypothesizes a currently undetected particle flux, which he calls "Cowsmic," because there is no observed trend in any of the better-known components of the Galactic Cosmic Ray flux. "We are trying to get money to put sheep in dark-matter accelerators to test our hypothesis, but there’s a hold-up with PETA. It’s all a big conspiracy to protect the consensus, I say."


[1] Noh-Watt, Ewe "Sheep-Albedo Feedback: A paradigm shift for climate change science." To be submitted to Readers’ Digest, "Humor in Uniform" section.

[2] Squeak, P.P. & Diddlesworth, I.R. 1987. The influence of ptarmigan population dynamics on the thermal regime of the Laurentide Ice Sheet : the surface boundary condition. In eds Edwin D. Waddington & Joseph S. Walder, The Physical Basis of Ice Sheet Modelling (Proceedings of a symposium held during the XIX Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics at Vancouver, August 1987), p.381-384.

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